The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Finally, Something Useful On This Blog …

Yes it’s a national holiday in America and yes, I said there would be no post today … but the thought of you not having your daily dose of my blog joy broke my heart so I am doing this for you.

I know, I should be knighted.

Ahem.

Anyway, the wonderful Mark Sareff has written a book.

I’ve written about Mark before because apart from being whip smart, he’s also one of the nicest people on the planet.

[Though I appreciate being being one of my friends and mentors may undermine that declaration a bit]

Anyway, while Mark may not be the best known names in planning, he is – in my opinion – the best planner in the industry and so anything by him is going to be interesting and useful and that is exactly what his book is.

It’s full of fantastic strategy nuggets of awesomeness based on real-world experiences.

It’s fun and quick to read and best of all, it’s free so if you are at all interested in smart thinking without the intellectual bullshit, then download it here … it just may be the first useful thing I’ve ever done for anyone on here.

Right, back to my holiday.

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I Know They Say Too Much Coffee Can Be Dangerous But This Is Ridiculous …

When I was younger I loved pocket knives, especially swiss army knives.

Not because I was a mugger – though I am from Nottingham – but because I found the way all the different elements came together in one small package, fascinating.

While I have grown up since those days [as have Swiss Army Knives, judging by this monster] I still find my eyes drawn to them when I see them, which is why this caught my attention.

But then, I looked a bit closer and saw it was a special edition.

And then I looked closer still and saw it had a picture of something that looked like a bloody Nespresso pod on its blade.

There’s a simple reason for that, because the image is supposed to be of a Nespresso pod, because this knife is made from recycled poncey coffee pod packaging.

I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to make of this.

Without doubt, one part of me thought it was bloody awesome, and yet another part of me hated it because by pointing out the specific material they recycled to make their product, I felt it was some sort of ‘official’ alliance and suddenly it was less about helping the earth and more about exploiting it.

Of course I knew I could be wrong – as I usually am – however when I looked into it, I found this descriptor on the Victorinox website:

“Two Swiss innovators, one directional collector’s piece. Meet the Pioneer Nespresso Livanto: a Swiss Army Knife with sustainability at the heart of its design blueprint. The second limited edition from this unique collaboration between Victorinox and Nespresso, it fuses a solid eco conscience and heritage with intricate engineering. This utility piece features scales crafted from 24 recycled coffee capsules in a striking bronze hue. It’s where green living meets coffee culture and intrepid adventure.”

… and in an instant, Victorinox and Nespresso left a horrible taste in my mouth, even worse than their coffee but – thankfully for them – not as bad as their ads.



Does Adland Know What Innovation Actually Is?

A long time ago, when I first moved to Shanghai, I wrote a post about how I felt China practiced what I called practical creativity.

Now while their has been significant improvement in the attitude towards innovation over the past 7 years – especially in terms of using technology to make life more convenient – the ‘functional’ element of creativity still exists.

Recently I saw another example of this.

Except it’s older than the stuff I used in my original post.

And it’s not true … more a story that grew into legend.

But that aside, it reinforces my point that there seems to be a major difference between the attitude of commercial creativity in the West and the commercial creativity in the East and both could do with taking a bit from each other.

Funny eh?

And while the true story behind the development of the ‘space pen’ is quite different to what is stated in this article [it was more a product of marketing than conquering the universe] the issue it raises is what adland seems to value in creativity.

Would ‘using a pencil’ be seen as successful in industry awards?

Probably not.

Even in Effies, I question if anyone would bestow anything on it other than ridicule.

But the pen might … with the right case study video attached, detailing the struggle to reinvent writing or some other headline worthy statement.

And that bothers me because commercial creativity will always start with the mind and if we ignore that in favor of the eyes and our egos, then we will be walking even further away from developing the ideas that I know we are capable of making that can fundamentally impact culture and commerce.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to try and push what is possible … but when you’re over-engineering a solution for no other reason than trying to win an award, then you should get fists in the face rather than applause.

Maybe Andy was right.

Years ago he told me the reason why judges at awards often favour scam is because it satisfies their ego to be associated with ‘ideas’ that allegedly push what is possible … even if it’s not real or effective.

Which is why most of the ‘innovation’ ideas that are awarded in advertising shows never gets to see the light of day.

Remember Peggy?

I rest my case.



America Is Modern History …

So I’ve already written how much I’m enjoying LA.

That doesn’t mean it’s better than China, just different.

I say that because there’s a huge amount of things about China I miss.

People. [Or at least some of them]
Clients. [Or at least some of them]
Culture. [Nearly all of it]

But there’s one thing I miss in its entirety and that’s how China deals with money.

More specifically, how China has embraced technology to enable people to transact their cash.

Of course, part of this is because China LOVES getting people to spend money and so the easier they make it, the easier it will be to get people to do it but then America – a land the Middle Kingdom copied in terms of capitalistic tendencies – is supposed to be a ‘spend society’ so I’m absolutely shocked how backwards they are in terms of embracing technology for finance.

Everywhere I go … everything I buy … can only be obtained with a credit card or a cheque.

A fucking cheque.

Seriously.

Oh yes, there’s the odd ‘Apple Pay’ option, but as we all know, that’s a piece of crap – especially compared to WeChat – so basically I’m in a situation where for the first time in literally 20 years, I am using cheque books.

At first, I thought they were joking, then I opened my bank account and they sent me 6 cheque books “to get me started”.

Six!!! Hahahahaha.

Thank God I was a pre-existing AMEX customer so I could get a local card otherwise – given the way America only offers you credit if you’re wildly in debt – I’d have to buy a bloody newspaper with a cheque.

The World may laugh at QR codes, but China has shown how they can be used to change the way people behave and transact with money forever. If America wants to be great again, modernizing their approach to money might be a good first step.



A Half Brit, Half Italian Who Spent 7 Years Living In China And Now Lives In America Starts Work At An Agency That Sounds Awfully Like A German Bank …

So as you know I have left China and moved to LA.

And, given I’ve written about it, you know the reasons behind the decision.

However I am also conscious I haven’t said where I am going. OK, so I know others have said where I’m going, but I haven’t. At least on here. 

Well today is the day, because today is the day I start my new job.

Actually I should say today is the day I start my main job because I’m also doing an on-going project with a rather famous rock band [ no, it’s not Queen] however I’m super excited to announce that as of this morning, I have become partner, chief strategy officer and official ‘new boy at school’ at American agency, Deutsch.

If you are based in the US, I’m sure you’ve heard of them but if you’re not, you’ll probably know them for this

To say they’re big is an understatement.

They’re huuuuuuuuge.

Massive clients. Massive office. Massive team.

Basically it’s the classic American cliche … everything is bigger in the US.

Now I’ve got to admit, there’s an element of their scale that makes me nervous … but that’s part of the reason I am so excited to be here.

When we were deciding where to go, I was very clear I didn’t want to do something that was similar to what I’ve been doing over the last 7 years. That’s not because I haven’t loved it – I’ve loved it almost too much – but because I couldn’t see the point of leaving a company I love if I was only go to end up at another company that wanted to be like the company I’ve just left.

What Deutsch offers me is the chance to play and learn in new areas.

Sure, it’s still advertising … but there’s a few fundamental differences from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

1. I’m going to be a partner.

I’ve got to be honest, this was very important to me. I always want to grow and be challenged and one of the things I knew would be good for me was if I was given the additional – and official – responsibility for helping run an office.

Now you may think I had that at Wieden Shanghai – and I did, kinda – however the structure of the company meant that unless I become an MD [something I don’t want to be] I would always be an invited guest, never one of the hosts.

I should point out I knew this when I joined and I was always given the opportunity to speak up and speak out, however I believe there’s a point where responsibility without authority undermines your potential and ambition and ultimately, I wanted to see if I could make a bigger difference to a company or if I’m full of shit.

2. Deutsch are much more into using tech to solve their clients business problems.

This is almost going back to the way cynic approached things and I love that. However, it is not for the reason that I am sure Northern Planner will suggest … which is that I might be able to convince a client to let me make a moped or car for them.

In all seriousness, one of the things I really liked about Deutsch was their desire to forge their own direction rather than replicate someone else’s. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places try and mimic Wieden without seemingly realising there’s only one W+K and they will always be the best in the World at what they do.

Deutsch’s ambitions feel more entrepreneurial and applied and I find that desire, fascinating.

3. I get to set direction for brands rather than translate someone else’s direction.

While I’ve worked around the World and represented massive regions of the globe, the reality is in most cases, I’ve been about translating someone else’s perspective on what the brand does/is. Someone who tends to work and live in America.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really found this a hindrance – especially in China, where the cultures was so different, so it was always fun to try and work out how to make things connect – but it will be nice to be at the real start of the challenge for once.

Of course there’s other reasons …

The partners are all great people who just happen to work in advertising.

I get to infect a new bunch of talented planners and hopefully make them even better than they thought they could be.

I have the opportunity to make my new team one of the most respected/hated/mischievous departments in the whole of North America. I find that idea really exciting and really infectious.

And then there’s the 2 big ones …

I get to give my family an environment that is healthy for them and we get to experience and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. Again.

Those are worth their weight in gold … especially as we’ve found a Mandarin school for Otis so he can still feel a connection to the country he was born in and the country his father loves and will miss deeply.

[Oh, we also own and get to drive cars again for the first time in 15 years. I am embarrassingly excited about it … though driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ is interesting … especially for all the other drivers in LA]

In fact the only thing I don’t like about my new job is that I’m called the Chief Strategy Officer.

I’m not that keen on that. It feels so cold. So exclusive. So disconnected to creativity.

But I get America loves its titles so it’s a small price to pay for the adventure.

So we will see what happens.

It could all go down in flames or it could be a fantastic adventure and for me, when those are the possibilities, that makes me massively excited.

So thank you Deutsch for the incredible opportunity, let’s hope you don’t regret it …

More posts in a couple of weeks when I’ve either [1] settled in a bit or [2] been fired.



Little Things Make The Difference …

In Asia, hand cleanliness is almost an obsession.

People even eat their sandwiches and burgers with knives and forks to avoid having to pick them up.

OK, so maybe that’s the case everywhere and I’m just showing my common Nottingham roots … but I still find it fascinating.

Everywhere you go, there’s hand sanitisers.

I’m not just talking in hospitals, I’m talking restaurants and all sorts of other places.

Recently, I saw this on my wife’s bag.

Yep, it’s a portable hand sanitiser.

But I’m not saying this because it highlights how long we’ve been in Asia, I’m saying it because making a product that can attach easily to a bag is an act of simple genius.

For a culture that doesn’t want to just wash their hands, but have them truly germ free … this little idea has big appeal.

Sure, there’s other products on the market that do a similar thing, but having something that attaches to your bag gives a peace of mind that wipes hidden in your bag, just can’t do. Plus being permanently on display helps advertise the brand to all who see it. Nice.

I’ve said for a while that I feel designers are doing things in more interesting ways than ad agencies and ultimately that’s down to one simple difference of approach.

Designers want to solve problems whereas ad agencies want to communicate problems.

Not all agencies are like this.

Not all agency employees are like this.

But right now, the design industry is kicking our ass and I swear it’s because we are holding on to remuneration models that reward ‘the old ways’ rather than finding ways to get paid for what we are truly capable of if given the freedom to do it.

[That and the fact adlands creative department hiring policy is still primarily based on art and copy rather than embracing different types of creative people/thinkers/doers]

We will have to wake up soon, otherwise the bullshit we churn out for Cannes – that we claim is ‘creative problem solving’ will become the benchmark for our standards and when that happens, we may as well pack up and go home.

But I have faith it can be done, if only because I saw The Kennedys Shanghai consistently solve problems in imaginative and innovative and intriguing ways for 9 months.



Why Trust Is The Single Most Important Word In Business …

One of the things that makes me smile is when I hear – or read – Western articles talking about how things like iPay will change the way people spend/transact forever.

The reason for my amusement is not just because this has been happening in China for at least 2 years, but that iPay is a massively inferior product when compared to something like Wechat wallet.

Now, to be fair, lots has been written about Wechat.

From how it has become a hub for almost every aspect of daily life in China – from messaging, to ordering food and taxis to spending, borrowing, investing or sending money – right through to it’s ability, in 2016, to transact more mobile payments in 14 days that eBay & Amazon did globally in an entire year.

[UPDATE: During the 2017 Chinese New Year, Wechat say 46 BILLION red packets [envelopes with money] were sent through their app over the 7 day holiday period. This represents 5 times the volume that occurred in 2016]

And all that is true and fascinating … but unless you live here, I don’t think anyone can truly grasp the way China has embraced technology based spending.

What makes it even more amazing is that prior to Wechat, China tended to be quite protective in how they used their money.

They were one of the slowest nations to embrace internet banking.

There’s millions upon millions of people who still won’t put their money in a bank.

And yet Wechat has come about and despite not being a bank, if has fundamentally changed consumer habits and sentiment regarding their cash.

Which has fundamentally changed retail habits and sentiment regarding how they offer service to their customers.

So how did they do it?

Well, there’s a bunch of reasons.

Without doubt one is they appeal to a different generation to those who were there before.

A generation brought up in the digital age.

A generation who have a ‘I want it now’ mentality.

But it’s more than that.

You see Wechat’s genius was they refused to take any advertising for years.

In a nation where making money is everything, Wechat resisted the lure of ‘easy cash’.

This might not seem a massive thing, but to the people here, it felt like they’d found a brand that actually cared about them.

A brand that wouldn’t sell them out to line their own pocket.

This gave Wechat an integrity few brands could ever hope to achieve – especially in such a limited period of time and in a place as suspicious as China – so when they launched their ‘wallet feature’, there was no doubt people would embrace it because the level of trust in them was so high.

Of course there’s many other reasons for their success – and arguably, Wechat did this so they could ultimately win the long game with advertisers and partners – but with so many brands talking about ‘changing behaviour and perceptions’, it’s worth remembering part of Wechat’s success is as much because of what they didn’t do, as it is what they did.